Garcia; Machado, Ruciński, Prestia; Chorus and Orchestra of the San Carlo, Naples, Luisotti. Production: Lavia.
Unitel Classics 721408, 124 mins., subtitled
The only Verdi work given its premiere in London — under the composer's baton, in 1847 — I Masnadieri shares with Giovanna d'Arco, Luisa Miller and Don Carlos a rooting in Schiller. All these works deal with intergenerational family conflict against a background of social or societal tensions. Julian Budden blames Andrea Maffei's overstuffed libretto for the relative rarity of Masnadieri in performance; the compositional inspiration varies greatly. With Luisa,it shares a German setting, something Verdi utilized otherwise only in Stiffelio and Act III of Ernani. U.S. performances have been limited to companies pursuing complete Verdian itineraries (Sarasota, New York Grand) or occasional excavations (OONY, San Diego). Several studio recordings exist, the best being Philips's starry 1974 release.
Unitel's musical forces here are somewhat more distinguished than in some of its comprehensive "Tutto Verdi" series of DVDs. Whatever headaches it caused Verdi, Naples's San Carlo did give the premieres of some of his works. Nicola Luisotti's propulsive baton is convincing in this repertory; the moving cello concertino prelude prepares one for a stronger performance than his sometimes hard-pressed vocal soloists go on to provide. There are less gifted spinto tenors than Aquiles Machado, but his overbrightened sound as the student-cum-angry-outlaw Carlo Moor hasn't much elegance of phrasing; he tends to glare and wobble in sustained passages. He eyes Luisotti incessantly. The Iago-like Francesco Moor (Artur Ruciński is here directed physically as a cross between Rigoletto and Richard III. This touch rather typifies Gabriele Lavia's Theater-of-Cruelty-glam-rock-concert staging, the full scenic ugliness of which video director Annalisa Buttò tactfully avoids showing. Ruciński deserves his growing reputation as a substantial baritone. Luisotti clearly believes in young Venezuelan soprano Lucrecia Garcia, whom he has brought to La Scala (plus San Francisco Opera, in Attila). Her potential is clear — it's a substantive sound — but while Garcia boasts some agility, Amalia's music, crafted for Jenny Lind's skill in embellishment, shows her off to less advantage than would other transitional Verdi roles. She has some awkward moments and — as yet — remains a dutiful rather than imaginative interpreter. Giacomo Prestia, a very active bass these days, give an acceptable performance of Massimiliano, the patriarch role created by Luigi Lablache. The Neapolitan comprimario tenors are truly awful. The release satisfies curiosity about Masnadieri but makes one long for a better video version.
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